Saw a brilliant quote this morning from Christopher Bailey the chief creative officer of Burberry. Goes like this:
“We are now as much a media-content company as we are a design company, because it’s all part of the overall experience.”
I thought Burberry made raincoats. And scarves. And apparel. But no, according to Bailey, Burberry makes content. They’re a media company. And from what I can tell, a pretty damn good one. First they impressed us with Art of the Trench. Now they’re at it again, live streaming their London Fashion Week show to 25 flagship stores.
Retail theatre if you will.
Burberry plans to present its 2011 line via high def screens, surround sound and an experience that lets customers view the entire line on iPads from which they can then place advance orders.
This is a far way from traditional advertising in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. Burberry isn’t buying media, it’s creating media.
You could make an argument that is the new frontier in marketing creativity. Less about messages, more about innovative ways to engage with customers and add value in the form of original content.
Granted plenty of companies and forward thinking brands are making content part of their business model. Retailers like Uniqlo. Online services such as OK Cupid. Young start-up “me-commerce” businesses in the mold of Gemvara.
But there are two aspects to Burberry’s idea that make it particularly smart. The first is that it focuses on existing customers. The Grateful Dead approach, if you will. Embrace, invite, involve and celebrate the people most likely to influential your success and spread the good word.
The second, potentially offering even more value, is that this idea creates a direct link to sales. Burberry will know almost instantly what its customers like and what they choose to pre-order. It might even help Burberry make decisions about inventory, and how many pieces to stock.
Yet even those benefits may be secondary to the simple idea expressed in Christopher Bailey’s quote. The idea that every business needs to be in the content business.
Are you in the content business yet?
The decade of connectivity is over. We are entering the decade of influence.
And if you believe Seth Priebatsch, the bright, young, really fast talking Princeton dropout CEO of the new mobile gaming platform SCVNGR, nothing influences like gaming dynamics.
Think about it. Game dynamics make us show up at designated times (Farmville); they encourage us to enhance our personal influence and status (fans, followers, comments); they inspire us to complete tasks (unlock rewards, earn badges); and they unite us to solve problems (Wired Magazine and the DARPA challenge.)
Why does this matter to marketers? For the simple reason that consumers don’t sit around waiting for messages to arrive on their screens. They’re too busy posting, updating, liking and gathering relevant content from friends and communities to pay much attention to anything resembling a traditional marketing or advertising execution.
Yet as marketers we still have to capture people’s attention, induce them to engage with us and drive them to take action. If messages no longer work, what does? Seth thinks the answer lies in games.
And there’s plenty of evidence that he’s right.
There are the original examples like Mint.com, which got you to complete the task of saving for a trip with a gauge showing you how close you were. Nike +, which rewards you for reaching fitness milestones. And, of course, the proverbial credit card points.
More recently we have Rue la la and Daily Grommet, which get you to show up daily to see what’s new and sometimes making products available for a limited time. (None other than Gary Vaynerchuk once told me he was buying as many “daily” URLs as he could get his hands on for that very reason.)
As Foursquare and Gowalla make game dynamics even more accessible, smart social marketers like AJ Bombers are learning to leverage our desire to win points and earn badges.
You’ll even notice that on this blog the Livefyre comment system that I’m testing out as a beta user hopes that the “game” of personal influence and reputation helps it catch on.
One of my all time favorite examples of the power of game dynamics was Evan Ratliff’s attempt to disappear. The Wired Magazine reporter attempted to erase all evidence, digital and otherwise, of his whereabouts. Wired’s offer of $5000 to whoever could find and out Evan inspired thousands of users across the country to band together in small groups, working as teams to track him down. Clearly their participation and commitment was as much about the challenge and competition as the money.
It strikes me that Seth’s argument makes total sense. If we can’t get people to pay attention to messages, if people get their content and information from each other, and if we need incentives and rewards, both intrinsic and extrinsic, to engage with a brand, we should all be figuring out how to put more game into our marketing programs.
Want to play? Leave a comment, tweet about it and see if you get more “likes” on your comment than the person above you and below you. Whoever gets the most likes on their comment wins a _____________. Hey, we could even make filling in that blank a game, too.
My last post suggested that maybe (not definitely) Apple’s iAds could be good for digital advertising, making them a bit more useful and a little less interruptive. Only time will tell, of course.
In the meantime, the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) has also come to realize it hasn’t done enough to make paid online advertising appealing or effective enough to attract spending commensurate with the amount of time people spend online. Click rates remain pitiful and no one has yet cracked the code on how to do display advertising or brand building executions in the online space.
While marketers spend $30 billion a year on OLA, $25 billion of that goes directly to search. According to Peter Minnium, who’s helping the IAB develop new standards, the big problem has been too much emphasis on response and too much dependence on the lowest common denominator units – typically the 2” by 3” ads that can be served by anyone from Google and MSN to your local blog.
According to Peter, as a result of standards that have to work for every website out there (in an effort to save advertisers having to create an excess of custom versions) creators face restrictions that drive them toward mediocrity and consumers live with tired, boring ads that fail to capture their imaginations.
The industry knows this. As search starts to slow, all the big portals are looking for ways to beef up revenue. That means Google, AOL, MSN and others will all try to figure it out on their own, but that approach could lead to confusion and fragmentation. Imagine if advertisers had to create totally different units, experiences and executions for every site where they ran ads?
Can the IAB change this? Well they’re trying. They’ve asked a number of creative folks from the advertising industry to help develop new standards. The objective is to come up with something that excites marketers, agencies and media planners.
IAB thinks that the solution, not unlike Apple’s approach, just might be to combine the sight, sound and motion of video with the web’s power of engagement and sharing, then somehow develop new formats that everyone buys into in order that brands can create fewer units and have the option of running them anywhere.
The big question of course is what is the role of branded display advertising on the Internet? In an ideal format, it will allow consumers to get the information they want, learn something meaningful, search directly from the ad, share if they wish to, and experience entertaining content in the process. Oh right, and it can’t interrupt.
Can this ever be achieved? Is there a model that works for both advertiser and consumer? How about the role of tablets to influence new formats?
Right now, advertisers need to move money out of TV and align budgets with consumer behavior. (Relying on memory here, but I believe the web accounts for 30 percent of consumers’ media time but only 10 percent of marketing dollars. Someone correct me if I’m off with these numbers.)
Running TV spots on the web doesn’t work. We’re online in order to discover what we want. Ads that interrupt us find little welcome. In fact, they’re disdained. And finally, as we turn to our social networks directly for the content we want, traditional search becomes less necessary and OLA close to useless.
Put that way it seems an insurmountable challenge.
The promise of digital advertising, of course, is that it serves us as much as the advertiser. It knows what we’re interested in without violating our privacy. It lets us opt in on our own terms. It includes all the best features of social media – sharing, ratings, recommendations from friends. And it’s exciting.
We seem to get more of the above in great social media executions and compelling viral ideas but not in paid digital ads, despite the few exceptions.
So, will we ever see standard units that are actually conducive to more inspiring advertising? Can the IAB win consensus from both big portals and smaller sites? Will iAds raise the bar for what consumers expect? Can paid digital advertising that lives on a website actually earn our attention? Lots of questions. But at least we have acknowledgment of the problem and a set of criteria that seem to make sense.
What do you think? Any chance we’ll ever learn to love online advertising?
If you’re like most people, chances are only .1 percent that you’ve ever clicked on a banner ad. And while that number is pitifully low, it might even misrepresent whatever enthusiasm exists. I know in my case the only time I open an online ad is by accident. Who needs them when there’s Google, YouTube and Twitter search?
The reason, of course, is that most online ads suck. They interrupt us, pop up and take over our screens, or delay our getting to the content we actually seek. Plus in most cases the lack of an engaging concept of any kind sends us looking for that little “x” which we’re practically programmed to discover within a nanosecond at most.
But change may be on its way. Both Apple with its iAds, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau with its effort to develop new standards, are acutely aware that it’s been a mistake to leave OLA in the hands of the quants instead of the creatives.
Recently I sat through an impressive presentation on iAds by Apple’s Scott Witt. If you’ve seen an iAd, you may not be an instant convert to Apple’s belief that it can inspire advertising people actually love, but at least you’re leaning a little toward the side of optimism. The good ones are absorbing, entertaining and informative.
(If you haven’t seen or experienced an iAd, download the app Tiptitude and open it; it usually displays the Nissan Leaf iAd at the bottom. You can tell an iAd from a regular banner because it identifies itself with the iAd label in the lower right hand side of the launch banner. Then click. You’ll experience something pretty cool. If you get the AT&T ad, just keep trying. The latter has some utility but it’s not as compelling as the Leaf iAd.)
Anyway, Apple is hoping that iAds deliver a quantum leap in advertising story telling as they have the potential to combine the cinematic beauty of great TV advertising (visceral imagery, animation, special effects), the interactive nature of the web (games, choices, navigation), the sharing and involvement of social media, and the tactile (digitally speaking) sensation of turning pages.
The Leaf execution for example has some brilliant film, interactive presentations of the car’s features, tools for comparison on mileage and operating costs, and more. In fact, it’s closer to an app than an ad. Same can be said for early Nike and Dove executions.
This is promising stuff. It acknowledges the need for digital advertising to be more creative and it encourages marketers to make utility and content first, sales pitches second.
True, iAds will call for a new kind of creative thinking (story telling + technology + user experience) but Apple is there to help (or control, depending on your point of view), acting as creative directors and gatekeepers for any initial iAd concepts. The reason, according to Witt, is that if Apple puts its name on something it wants to guarantee users the Apple standards they’ve come to expect. Apple also justifies its control with the argument that since iAds use all the capabilities of the iPhone OS who knows better than the guys who created it. That may or may not be the case, but if you want to get on the platform those are the rules.
In some cases Apple’s God-like role may be a bit too much for advertisers and agencies to take — I know of some brands that have opted out when Apple wouldn’t let them do what they believed was necessary to be effective. On the other hand, if a digital ad is only as good as the number of people who click on it and Apple’s reputation with users can increase engagement, then maybe submitting to the company’s tightly clenched security measures is worth it.
What will it take for iAds to really succeed? A lot. Brands have to sign up and fork over some serious money — $1 million to $10 million before production. App developers have to sell space on their applications, though with 60 percent of the revenue coming their way there’s a decent incentive. Users have to believe that all iAds are worth clicking on. And finally, advertisers have to see results.
Nevertheless, I’m hoping Apple’s efforts influence the way all advertising is done and that as iAds show us what’s possible with paid digital ads we’ll see online ads become more experiential, offer genuine utility, and even turn into miniature apps themselves.
Up next, part two of this topic: some thoughts on what the Interactive Advertising Bureau is doing in its quest for new standards.
In the meantime, your thoughts? Have you seen iAds in action? Does Apple’s name alone make you want to click?
Yesterday I ran into old colleague, now an art director at another agency. Here’s how he greeted me. “Hey, I heard you’re no longer creative. You’ve gone 100 percent digital and social.”
Now, I am under the impression that if you lose 30 pounds you may no longer be fat. Or that if you convert to Judaism you may no longer be Catholic. Or that if you have a sex change you may no longer be the same gender you used to be.
But I had no idea that if you went all digital and social that it meant giving up your creativity. Heck, for a moment I had actually believed that digital and social was the new creative.
Sure it’s possible, maybe even likely, that my encounterist employed the word as a noun rather than an adjective. But it was, nevertheless, a reminder that in our business we continue to apply restrictive labels far too liberally. Labels that affect how we think of each other.
Want a creative idea? You go to the “creatives.” Need a digital creative idea? Seek out the “digital creatives.” If it’s a social media idea you’re after, well then, find yourself a social media person.
We do the same with companies. If you’re an ad agency, you can’t be a digital agency. If you’re a digital agency, you can’t be very good at branding. If you’re a digital production company you can’t do digital strategy.
Certainly there are times when specialization, either as a company or an individual, positions us more strongly or enables us to differentiate ourselves in competitive pitches.
But in general labels holds us back. Worse yet, they become self-fulfilling. It’s hard to grow if you’re nothing but a boutique. Tough to get invited into the creative brainstorming if you’re merely the strategist. Challenging to win a digital client if you’re a traditional agency.
If I were to be labeled anything my preference would be someone who defies labels. Is that possible?